Abusive people typically think they are unique, really so different from other people that they don’t have to follow the same rules everyone else does. But rather than being unique, abusers have a lot in common with one another, including their patterns of thinking and behaving. The following are some of their characteristics.
Instead of accepting responsibility for his actions, the abuser tries to justify his behavior with excuses. For example: “My parents never loved me” or “My parents beat me” or “I had a bad day, and when I walked in and saw this mess, I lost my temper” or “I couldn’t let her talk to me that way. There was nothing else I could do.”
The abuser shifts responsibility for his actions away from himself and onto others, a shift that allows him to justify his abuse because the other person supposedly “caused” his behavior. For example: “If you would stay out of it while I am disciplining the kids, I could do it without hitting them.” Or he may say, “She pushes my buttons.” Statements like this are victim blaming. If he really had buttons she could push, she would push the one that says, “vacuum” instead the one that says, “hit me”.
In a variation on the tactic of blaming, the abuser redefines the situation so that the problem is not with him but with others or with the outside world in general. For example, the abuser doesn’t come home for dinner at 6 p.m. as he said he would; he comes home at 4 a.m. He says, “You’re an awful cook anyway. Why should I come home to eat that stuff? I bet the kids wouldn’t even eat it.”
The abuser believes he would be rich, famous, or extremely successful if only other people weren’t “holding me back.” He uses this belief to justify his abuse. The abuser also puts other people down verbally as a way of making himself look superior.
The abuser controls the situation by lying to control the information available. The abuser also may use lying to keep other people, including his victim, off-balance psychologically. For example, he tries to appear truthful when he’s lying, he tries to look deceitful even when he’s telling the truth, and sometimes he reveals himself in an obvious lie.
Abusive people often assume they know what others are thinking or feeling. Their assumption allows them to justify their behavior because they “know” what the other person would think or do in a given situation. For example, “I knew you’d be mad because I went out for a beer after work, so I figured I might as well stay out and enjoy myself.”
Above the Rules
As mentioned earlier, an abuser generally believes he is better than other people and so does not have to follow the rules that ordinary people do. That attitude is typical of convicted criminals, too. Each inmate in a jail typically believes that while all the other inmates are criminals, he himself is not. An abuser shows “above-the-rules” thinking when he says, for example, ‘I don’t need batterer intervention. I’m different than those other men. Nobody has the right to question what I do in my family.”
Making Fools of Others
The abuser combines tactics to manipulate others. The tactics include lying, upsetting the other person just to watch his or her reactions, and encouraging a fight between or among others. Or, he may try to charm the person he wants to manipulate, pretending a lot of interest or concern for that person in order to get on her or his good side.
The abuser usually keeps his abusive behavior separate from the rest of his life. The separation is physical; for example, he will beat up family members but not people outside his home. The separation is psychological; for example, the abuser attends church Sunday morning and beats his wife Sunday night. He sees no inconsistency in his behavior and feels justified in it.
The abuser ducks responsibility for his actions by trying to make them seem less important than they are. For example, “I didn’t hit you that hard” or ‘I only hit one of the kids. I could have hit them all.”
Thinking and speaking vaguely lets the abuser avoid responsibility. For example, “I’m late because I had some things to do on the way home.”
Abusive people are not actually angrier than other people. However, they deliberately appear to be angry in order to control situations and people.
The abuser uses various tactics to power trip others. For instance, he walks out of the room when the victim is talking, or out-shouts the victim, or organizes other family members or associates to “gang up” on the victim in shunning or criticizing her.
Occasionally the abuser will pretend to be helpless or will act persecuted in order to manipulate others into helping him. Here, the abuser thinks that if he doesn’t get what he wants, he is the victim; and he uses the disguise of victim to get back at or make fools of others. Abusers will often claim to be the victim in order to avoid being held accountable by law enforcement. He may assert she was the one who was violent. He will display what are clearly defensive wounds, such as bite marks or scratch marks, and claim she “attacked” him. Or he will declare that the physical marks on her were caused when he was trying to keep her from hurting herself.
Drama and Excitement
Abusive people often make the choice not to have close relationships with other people. They substitute drama and excitement for closeness. Abusive people find it exciting to watch others get angry, get into fights, or be in a state of general uproar. Often, they’ll use a combination of tactics described earlier to set up a dramatic and exciting situation.
The abusive person does not tell much about himself and his real feelings. He is not open to new information about himself, either, such as insights into how others see him. He is secretive, close-minded, and self-righteous. He believes he is right in all situations.
The abuser typically is very possessive. Moreover, he believes that anything he wants should be his, and he can do as he pleases with anything that is his. That attitude applies to people as well as to possessions. It justifies his controlling behavior, physically hurting others, and taking things that belong to them.
The abuser usually thinks of himself as strong, superior, independent, self-sufficient, and very masculine. His picture of the ideal man often is the cowboy or adventurer type. When anyone says or does anything that doesn’t fit his glorified self-image, the abuser takes it as an insult.